What is Right to Information:
RTI is the short form of the most essential right at the disposal of any citizen which is, Right to Information. Article 19(1) gives every citizen his/her freedom of speech and expression. Being the world’s largest democracy, India follows the concept of modern democracy, which is the power of people, not to be mistaken with majoritarianism. It is the decisions that taken by the government on behalf of the people. With this power of taking decisions on behalf people it comes with a liability of being accountable to them, and avoiding any arbitrary execution of command. To increase the transparency and accountability, in the precedent of Raj Narain v. State of Uttar Pradesh, right to information was read into Article 19 as only when a citizen will know, can they express.
Right to Information Act,2005 (herein referred to as the RTI Act) was introduced to empower every citizen and seek information from the government, take copies, inspect documents, inspect government works, and study samples and includes all authorities that are government-operated or financed or both. It includes private bodies that are owned controlled or financed by the government. Section 8 of the RTI Act lists out limitations of this right where the authorities may refuse to give information. Even file notings which are short notes that are made by the bureaucrats that indicate the thought process behind any decision or regulation are declared as an integral part and cannot be omitted.
Why are we talking about RTI?
For bachelors, finding a house to rent is a nightmare as the owners believe that they do not stay at one place for long. Many societies also do not allow their members to lease or rent out apartments to bachelors due to a social stigma that has been unnecessarily created. These instructions or limitations are not included in the registered bye-laws framed by the society under the Cooperative Societies Act as they cannot be approved by the registrar. The fear of being told to vacate is immaterial of its legitimacy. With the pandemic, these cases have seen a significant increase where the society gives eviction notice and the landlord watches.
These grounds for eviction are discriminatory on the basis of religion, race, caste, creed, gender, origin, and most frequently- marital status. This is against the right given to every citizen against such discrimination under Article 15.
Article 14 of the constitution is interpreted to avoid any arbitrary action in the legislative and the executive machinery. With both the articles read together, such notices and frivolous, baseless grounds of evictions shall be a violation of the rights of a tenant.
The tenancy may be a contractual tenancy or a statutory tenancy. This living without a safety net is more prevalent with the former. This fear is causing one-sided agreements favoring the landlords, unregistered brokers, and incidents of frauds, landlords not returning the deposits, and exorbitant rent charged from bachelor tenants.
Other than the violations under Article 15, Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act also stands as a defense against such actions. The section states that any contract against public policy is void. This section was introduced to make sure that any of the parties do not take undue advantage of another and reserve remedial rights of the opposite party.
However, the society due to cumulative residential powerplay under the garb of being in the committee made within the Cooperatives Societies pass an unregistered resolution against such unmarried citizens.
We filed 36 RTI Applications pan-India
To understand whether such arbitrary evictions or ban on the tenancy to bachelors under this legislation can be upheld, we have filed, 36 RTIs covering all states and union territories and the National Cooperation Housing Federation (NCHF).
As such information does not come under section 8 of the RTI Act, it is open for the public to get clarity.
During the COVID pandemic, many tenants have suffered this discrimination and it is unfair to allow the landlords and the concerned authorities to exercise muscle power without paying heed to the accountability that comes with it.
RTI Filing Information:
RTIs were filed through the online portals.
The Central portal – https://rtionline.gov.in/request/request.php is where these RTIs were submitted, asking them to refer them to the concerned State authorities. If the information in the respective RTI portals is not sufficient then you may contact the designated Public Information Officers (PIO) who act as nodal officers. The application may be submitted online or offline.
There is a minimal fee of Rupees 10 on an average (it may vary as per the state) that is to be submitted if you are above the Below Poverty Line (BPL) The RTI portals of each state and their official website is mentioned in the table below:
What happens after the RTI is filed?
Once, the RTI is filed, there is a limit of 30 days, within which you must receive your information. In the case of filing of application with the Assistant PIO, then such information has to be made available within 35 days. The reason RTI is enforced although other laws are also applicable is that the RTI imposes an immediate penalty on the officer if such information is not provided. Hence, accountability is needed not to be disputed in the judiciary, but directly applicable in case the officer fails to maintain transparency.
Dissatisfaction with the information received
In case you are dissatisfied with the information provided, you may file an appeal with the First Appellant authority under Section 19(1) Right to Information Act. It must be noted for an appeal, no fees are to be paid (Except for a few states who mention it explicitly). You must file your first appeal within 30 days of receiving information. If you are dissatisfied with this information as well, you may further pursue the matter a second appeal with the Information Commission (State or Central, as per subject matter). This may be filed within 90 days of the disposal of the first appeal.
It must be noted that an applicant cannot be questioned about his purpose of information. As a citizen, it is a fundamental right and on frivolous grounds of the information being lengthy or voluminous, applications cannot be rejected as per Section 6(2) of the RTI Act.
Once you have the required information, then you shall cross-check your doubts and use it for the purposes you extracted it for. In this case, that shall progress once we get a clarification from the RTIs we have filed under various State authorities.
As responsible citizens, we must use this right that is at our disposal to make sure that rational and favorable decisions are being taken by the government. Being a sovereign, to protect it, we must take the initiative and see whether our elected representatives are being held accountable. This right gives us access to a plethora of information and any sort of wrongdoing may be caught and called out. This gives the officials and the wrongdoers a clear message of awareness among people and increased vigilance, improving the efficiency of the administration.